Aarti’s After Party: 3 Secrets to Good Presenting

by in Food Network Star, May 20, 2012

Bobby and Kara

Aarti Sequeira won Food Network Star season 6 and expanded her popular blog into a cooking show, Aarti Party (catch it on Food Network, Sundays at 7:30am/6:30c). As a Star veteran watching from her couch at home, Aarti shares her insider’s take on what went down each week.

Oh man, how I loved this challenge! Wasn’t it good? I think this might have been my favorite challenge in Food Network Star history.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a journalist by training — I worked at CNN, and I produced a documentary about the genocide in Darfur that aired on HBO. So the prospect of being thrown into an unfamiliar field to harvest stories and secrets from the locals, and then recount them to an audience? Hooray and huzzah! And while at first blush this week’s challenge seemed to favor one team in particular (I’m looking at you, Team Giada), this is something that every Food Network hopeful needs to master.

Food television is changing — not only must you be able to cook, be able to talk about what you’re cooking and relate to your viewers, but you must also be able to take viewers on a journey, pull them along with you as you experience food cooked by other hands, and make people feel like they’re sitting at the table with you. Look at the success of shows like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, United Tastes of America and Heat Seekers, and you’ll see what I mean.

So, future Food Network Stars, here are a few of tips on presenting like the star that you are.

Alton and Judson

1) Don’t “Present”.

Forget about this being a presentation. All those memories of standing at the front of the classroom, speaking robotically about the major themes in literary classics — forget ‘em.

Instead, speak colloquially (but coherently), as you would to a friend sitting across the table from you. Literally imagine that person: It could be your best friend, your spouse, your grandmother, someone you feel completely comfortable around. A news anchor once told me that he always imagined he was talking to his favorite 70-something-year-old aunt when he was reporting. Cute, huh?

See, when you do that, suddenly you start to sound like a human being. All the formality will evaporate from your speech. Your voice will soften, as will your jaw. You’ll smile more, and your eyes might even light up. It’s a small adjustment that reaps rich rewards. It’s what Alton said to Judson in his Producers’ Challenge: “Just talk to me. Stop selling me something.”

I think of Ippy, Martie and Martita here; each of them made me feel like I was sipping coffee in their living room as they told me about this great new place they’d found. I mean, Martie was so relaxed, she hitched her leg up on a seat! Her joke about being able to fit that sandwich in her mouth seemed genuine, unforced and, heck — any time you can make people laugh, you win. Martita brings this sensual warmth into the room; everything seems to slow down a little, the lights dim. Also, I want her hair.

Giada and Josh

2) Tell a story (but keep it short).

The essence of practically all entertainment is storytelling. Every film, every TV show, even every recipe is a story. In journalism school, there was this theory called “the blade of grass.” The idea was that if you were covering a huge issue, like the Farm Bill, you’d find a farmer and tell his singular story in order to illustrate the larger, more abstract issue. It put a human face on the largely dry jargon of bills, amendments and votes — and everyone loves a story.

The same thing applies here. You have to be inquisitive when you’re in the field; ask a lot of questions to draw stories out of the characters you’re talking to. Giada gave great advice to her team when she ran through a quick list of questions to ask: Why are you here, what’s the history of this place, who comes here, do you have any funny stories? You kind of have to be a nosey parker in order to get the goods from people. Being genuinely curious goes a long way.

Yvan’s enthusiasm about not only the mozzarella, but also the guys who make it, lit up the bus. You can’t force your joy over a product (as poor Judson learned), so you’ve got to find something about it that you can love. Yvan seemed to love the history behind these artisans as much as he loved the cheese itself, and that showed. So he told their story, and he kept it short and sweet.

Josh, on the other hand … Well, I’m still not sure what Joe Pesci had to do with the sausage place. We can all lose track of time and, trust me, I’m thoroughly guilty of taking too long to tell a story (look at how long this post is!), but if it’s a long story that’s relevant to the task at hand? At least you’re one for two.

Team Alton

3) Fail with a smile.

Watching someone nail a take without any mistakes is pretty cool, but watching someone make a mistake, laugh about it, shake it off and keep going? That’s memorable and relatable — and winning. I know firsthand how hard it is to perform when the network is watching. Mistakes are going to happen, so embrace them. Let your warts and freak flag fly. I felt awful for Emily when motion sickness took over. I know that feeling. Heck, we all know that feeling. That’s why I was hoping that she’d acknowledge it in her presentation. You should be honest, laugh it off, finish your presentation and forget about being perfect. Be brave enough to show your human side, because we’re all human.

Mistakes are a gift, actually, because they provide the opportunity to be spontaneous, to let the real you leak out. The more you try to plug up the leaks (bad metaphor, I know. Forgive me, Emily.), the harder it is to appear natural. So forget about perfection. Perfection is nice. Being real and honest about your imperfections? That’s an act of bravery, a daring finger in the eye of how things are “supposed” to be — it’s the makings of a star.

What do you think? Whose presentation did you like the most? The least? Did you agree with who went home?


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Comments (145)

  1. teambobbylove! says:

    Just because someone cries in the producer's room shouldn't be the only reason to keep them around next week. If a contestant doesn't complete the challenge and comes off repeatedly fake, that should be enough to kick 'em to the curb.

    • Adam says:

      ya I do agree with that. I wont say it was a tactic I think it was genuine. but i agree, he lacks genuine honesty thats a huge minus

      • JLF says:

        And yet he seemed so sincere last week. I liked him then, but he didn't impress me tonite. Perhaps his dislike for his assigned tour stop (pickles) left him flat for the entire episode.

    • vert2013 says:

      He came off like a motivational speaker/sales person. I'm already watching food network, I don't need to be sold on how good food is. Also, I HATE when contestants cry (especailly when they're up for elimination), if the people who are succesful on FN are telling you you did something wrong, you did. Stop crying. If someone cries, it's an automatic minus in my book,

      • Food Fan says:

        I agree. Casual/informal with simple explanation and a warm smile would do wonders!
        One other thing I'm hoping for this season is to have LESS of the other FoodNetwork show-hosts judging new contestants dishes. Why? I can answer in one word: Cattiness!

  2. Guest says:

    Yes, I agreed with who went home this week (won't give a hint since the show just ended!). I think the one who stayed has a lot of hidden potential and last week showed us what that potential was. I am still cheering for this person! On another note, it was great to see some places in NYC to check out as restaurants and stores to visit and to savor their offerings!!!!! Thanks for the tourist tour! And, I also felt bad for Emily--she has so much personality, but we all can be in a position where we make a mistake--and we learn from that!!!!!

  3. Richard Robert says:

    The changes in the show have made it so predictable. Bobby's team won last week so he couldn't win tis week. Alton's team lost a member of his team last week so he couldn't lose a member this week. Next week somebody from Giada's team must go to keep the teams even. Worst Cook had a better format - one form each team went home each week. That way the teams stayed even and believeable not this phony take turns each week who loses a member until the final week.

    • girloftheworld says:

      Good point. I do like the challenge cook off.

    • Adam says:

      i do question some aspects of it for pure entertainment value, im not sure if its completely unstaged or unscripted

      • vert2013 says:

        With the number of Discover card placements I've seen there is no possible way it's unstaged.

    • Phineus says:

      I agree, it was predictable. I knew right away that Bobby's team would lose someone.

    • laini70119 says:

      They can't have one from each team go home each week. The mentors are competing too. Whichever contestant wins, their mentor will produce their show so it's only right that one person go home each week.

  4. Lainer says:

    I'm not sure that I agree that the right person went home tonight. It feels like that person was sent home to even out the teams. That's what I thought would happen before I even saw their challenge. My mom made twice baked potatoes (holds alot of memories for me) and I liked the new twist idea. I really liked the mini cast iron presentation and the saying - every classic dish begins with a new idea - thought that was pretty cool. Again, just felt like it was done to even the teams. If that is the case, a real bummer. Will see if someone from Giada's team goes home next week...

    • former fan says:

      I so agree with you! I was "whining on the FN website about this too.That rock n roll guy on Giada's team has GOT to go! I really hate that it's all or nothing wins.

  5. skipling says:

    Great advice from Aarti, one of the most gracious and sincere people in front of the camera. I am still having trouble with Josh. As far as I'm concerned , he's got two down, but he got to stay. Why?

    • JLF says:

      He was saved by the strength of his team members, especially Yvan and Ippy who nailed their presentations, and Ippy did so well with the food. Although Emily blew the presentation when she felt car sick, her food was good.

  6. Adam says:

    none of you will say this but they have to have at least one black guy to be politically correct. while the other lady shoyld be eliminated i also think the black guy should have left, too. i think bobs and that other exec lady's analysis is usually right on and they are making a gamble

    • Lainer says:

      I'm not afraid to say it, and while it is a good point, I still think the elimination was for the evening of the teams - at least for now...

    • vert2013 says:

      Malcom is still there and he's black. They totally could have sent home Judson. Although, I think a double elimination would have been appropriate last night, neither of them were memorable.

    • LISN says:

      Hmmmm. That's a sad commentary from you in this day and age. Judson seemed nervous. The whiny blond was forgettable and her food was sub par.

    • laini70119 says:

      What Malcolm isn't black enough or male enough to qualify as a black guy? Judson was not the only black guy.

    • Carrie says:

      I guess if one is accustomed to using token players, one might think this way. However, perhaps next time they could have 4 black guys on the show. Yeah...that should do it. -__-

  7. [...] the rest here: Aarti’s After Party: 3 Secrets to Good Presenting This entry was posted in Food Network and tagged forget, laugh, long, mistake, presentation, [...]

  8. JLF says:

    I'm thinking that for this team concept to work, the bottom member of each team should do a 3-way cook off for elimination. Josh was every bit as bad as Kara and Judson tonite, but was given protection because of his team's immunity. They're carrying his dead weight right now, and as long as the strong players like Emily, Ippy and Yvan keep their team in front. he gets to stay.

    • JLF says:

      OOPs - my bad. Emily is on AB's team, not Giada's.

    • Jim H says:

      I agree that was the one thing I have not liked about this format.

    • LISN says:

      I think you're on to something. Your "3-way" idea (provocative pun not intended) would be more fair.

    • Jerilee says:

      I agree. The bottom three, one form each team, should be in a cook-off. None of the three teams should be carrying dead weight. The worst of the three goes.

  9. Randy says:

    Matt is right this format sucks.It one long add. for deli junk and credit cards. there is very little competition.

  10. Cheryl <> says:

    The teams can be evened out anytime by moving someone to another team if too lopsided. They do this all the time on "The Apprentice." I really felt for Emily because sometimes I suffer from motion sickness too. No fun. Yes Josh bombed big time... both in presentation and food. He certainly should have been among those in the hot seats. I think he should have been sent packing as well. Somebody please give Michelle a little make-over help. Thanks.

    • Cheryl <> says:

      Thought I would clarify a little on the make-over. Seemed to me the color of her clothing on one part was drab on camera. Just a suggestion.

    • Cheryl <> says:

      I might add even though the teams could be evened out like " The Apprentice," that doesn't necessarily mean this will be how FN does it. Waiting to see.